In early October, BrightRoll attended the Grace Hopper Women in Computing conference. It was a first for us, but it will certainly not be the last given the value, connections and inspiration we got from those three days. We came back inspired and excited, but also a little deflated. Grace Hopper now boasts over 8,000 attendees, which is a huge leap from the 150 attendees at their very first conference in 1994. But despite all of the growth, it’s clear that there is still a lot standing between gender equality and tech.
Trust Karma, but Ask for a Raise
Enough has been written about the tone deaf comment made by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, but his statement is worth endless analysis and commentary. Careless or not, what he said tells women that we have a long way to go. If men who say they want equality are this out of touch, what can we expect from those who haven’t bought into gender equality?
His comment is not malicious, but it speaks to a bigger problem: ignorance.
According to the New York Times, female computer scientists make 89 cents for every dollar that men make. Although this gap is smaller than some other fields, there is still a gap, and silently waiting to be recognized has clearly not made any difference. Don’t “wait for karma” — ask for a raise.
Be Aware of Your Privilege
Perhaps one of the most valuable things about attending Grace Hopper was being forced to recognize our own privilege. Privilege is, of course, a loaded word. Who has it, and how much of it do they have? What does it mean? How can we start to recognize it?
I missed the infamous “Male Allies” panel, but I followed the conversation on Twitter with curiosity. An all-white, all-male panel speaking about diversity to a diverse female audience is a guaranteed trainwreck. The panel reinforced old stereotypes and once again showed us that even our allies are unaware of their own privilege.
The brave male BrightRoller who attended Grace Hopper with us went to a session on privilege hosted by students and teachers from Harvey Mudd’s Computer Science program. To illustrate just how much privilege enables success, they conducted a privilege walk. In the exercise, participants step forward if they have experienced specific privileges, or step back if they have experienced specific disadvantages. There was palpable tension in the room. People instinctively perceived the privilege differential. When the group reflected on the activity at the end of the session, the word “discomfort” came up over and over.
Privilege is tied intimately to the notion of micro biases. Individual steps forward or backward are nearly undetectable, but the steps add up fast. Calling out privilege and bias, while uncomfortable and awkward, is liberating.
It is incredibly empowering to walk into a room full of amazingly smart women, to hear from Turing Award Winners, CTOs, scientists, and technologists. It’s empowering to see young girls find the confidence they need to make a difference.
My colleague Betsy said it best: Grace Hopper was inspiring because we got to hear stories from accomplished women technologists looking to give back to the community. Their stories of success without a support system, and their willingness to bolster other women makes Grace Hopper a must for all women in tech.
What is Next?
There was a lot of discomfort at Grace Hopper. To be honest, I think we brought some of it back. But discomfort is good. It surfaces things we are often too scared to acknowledge.
At BrightRoll, we strive to create an environment that recognizes the challenges faced by working women. We are nowhere near perfect, but we are working on initiatives to acknowledge gender bias, and to eliminate the barriers that keep us from an all-inclusive culture. Attending the Grace Hopper Conference might sound like a small step, but it is a small step in the right direction.